A NATURAL FIT
LDWF’s Natural And Scenic Rivers Showcase Many Of The Beautiful Waterways Of Louisiana
story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information
Blind River is so Louisiana. It meanders slowly through St. James, Ascension and Livingston parishes before emptying into Lake Maurepas. Its path flows past beautiful cypress tupelo swamp with an array of wildlife to greet you on the journey.
It’s almost right out of Hollywood casting for a Bayou State waterway, almost too good to be true.
But thanks to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Natural and Scenic Rivers System, of which Blind River is a part, the natural beauty of this waterbody is preserved and protected.
It’s one of LDWF Biologist Director Kyle Balkum’s favorite Louisiana waterways.
“Blind River is excellent if you want to get a good feel for a Louisiana stream,” said Balkum, who oversees LDWF’s Scenic Rivers System. “It’s a beautiful river that’s influenced by the tide. It’s a wide, slow moving river that drains a lot of areas. You can have a blast spending the day paddling, fishing or boating on it.”
Though a solid choice, it’s certainly not the only Louisiana Scenic River to be enjoyed. Throughout the state, there are approximately 80 streams or stream segments thereof, constituting an estimated 3,100 miles of Louisiana’s streams, rivers and bayous that make up the Scenic Rivers System, which is administered by LDWF.
One of Louisiana’s natural resource treasures is the abundance of waterways in the state. Meandering bayous, streams, rivers, coastal marshes and tidal creeks help make up the diversity of waterways in the Sportsman’s Paradise.
That’s why 50 years ago the Louisiana Legislature created the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Rivers System.
So in 2020, LDWF is celebrating the creation and evolution of the system and spotlighting exactly how, where and why these beautiful waterbodies are so recognized. Among the events scheduled will be an anniversary celebration in Lacombe at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Louisiana Complex. LDWF will partner with the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, the Nature Conservancy of Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to stage this event.
The purpose of the system was simple: to preserve, protect, develop, reclaim and enhance the wilderness qualities, scenic beauties and ecological regimes of certain free-flowing Louisiana streams.
“Louisiana’s Scenic Rivers System is one of the largest systems like it in the world and LDWF is proud of the role it plays in this effort,” said LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet. “It was clear many of these rivers and streams needed shielding and preservation so that generations to come would be able to enjoy them. In addition, we always want to make sure that prime habitat such as these rivers and streams are guarded so fisheries and wildlife can continue to flourish.”
How it Got Started
In the late 1960s, the American public was beginning to realize the importance of keeping the nation’s waterways clean. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress in 1972. But many states, including Louisiana, were working to develop plans to protect and preserve waterways before that legislation passed.
Two people instrumental in that in Louisiana were Gladney Davidson, an LSU graduate student, and Louisiana State Senator George T. Oubre, who authored the Scenic Rivers legislation.
Davidson, who was killed in a car accident in 1981, did his thesis on Louisiana waterways, titled “Stream and Stream Preservation: Justification for a Scenic Rivers Program in Louisiana.”
“His thesis seems to have been part of the inspiration behind the Scenic Rivers System legislation,” Balkum said. “I’ve always been told that a significant push behind the act was his thesis on comprehensive stream surveys.”
The legislation had teeth. This was more than just designating some Louisiana waterways as Scenic Rivers and it was more than symbolism over substance.
“One of our goals through a regulatory program is to try and preserve those natural, wilderness and scenic qualities on those rivers,” Balkum said. “We do permit activity to try to avoid, minimize and mitigate those impacts as best as possible.”
Certain activities are prohibited on designated Natural and Scenic Rivers because of their detrimental ecological impacts on the streams. These include channelization, clearing and snagging, channel realignment, reservoir construction, commercial clear-cutting of trees within 100 feet of the ordinary low water mark and use of a motor vehicle or other wheeled or tracked vehicle on a designated stream.
Scenic River permits are required for activities on or near system rivers that may detrimentally impact the ecological integrity, scenic beauty or wilderness qualities of those rivers. These permits, when granted, contain specific conditions aimed at preserving the stream’s natural character and quality.
That regulation was put to the test in 2013 and 2014. LDWF biologists believed ATV use, rampant especially on the weekends, in some of the system’s waterbodies was to the detriment of fish and wildlife species as well as other recreational user groups. LDWF fisheries biologists sampled the areas of ATV use and found the diversity in the fish communities had been severely damaged.
“We found the diversity of the fish communities was gone,” Balkum said. “We had a few less desirable species that were still hanging on in those streams. But we also sampled stream segments where there was no ATV use. There we found much greater species diversity and desirable recreational species like spotted bass. So we knew there was an issue with heavy ATV use.”
Working with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, rules and regulations were adopted to prohibit ATV use in these streams after the sampling was done. The result appears to be the return of quality stream habitat and desirable fish species in those areas affected by ATV use.
The Public’s Help
A great diversity of stream types, habitats and geographic areas are represented in the system. From large rivers like the Ouachita River in north central Louisiana to fast running, upland streams, complete with waterfalls, like Kisatchie Bayou in Natchitoches Parish and stream systems like the Tchefuncte River and its tributaries in St. Tammany Parish, all are unique and worth preserving for the benefit of future generations of Louisianians.
Rivers, streams and bayous can be nominated for inclusion in the Scenic Rivers System by local legislators. Once nominated, LDWF will conduct a study on the stream and determine if it meets the qualifying criteria. If it does, the LDWF Secretary could recommend it for inclusion.
Balkum said the studies are painstaking. The streams are surveyed to make sure the minimum criteria is met. Public hearings are held so the public can let its will be known before the stream is included in the system.
“The process is a careful vetting of these waterbodies,” Balkum said. “We don’t want an urban stream that is fully developed and concreted. And our public hearings are vitally important because we don’t want to ram anything down anyone’s throat. These designations come with regulation. Local landowner support is always key to a successful nomination.”
LDWF certainly wants the public to enjoy these waterbodies. But there can be challenges, including access and working with commercial operators who mine adjacent to the rivers for sand and gravel. Sand and gravel mining is something that is carefully monitored by LDWF on the Scenic Rivers.
“That’s especially true throughout the Florida Parishes,” Balkum said. “We try to work with those operators so that they can mine for those resources while at the same time preserve the character of the streams. We try to retain and conserve buffers so those activities aren’t seen by paddlers and recreational users. We certainly want to protect the stream bank and riparian habitat. We want to keep a system stream from realigning or capturing an excavated pit. In our experience, both can coexist when adequate forested buffers and other consideration are provided.”
Balkum said one of the pushes in recent years is working with local communities and Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development to develop recreational access.
“That can be difficult because of litter, upkeep and liability issues at access points,” Balkum said. “But safe paddling and boating access to these scenic streams is something the public wants. And we’ll keep working with partners to try to expand these.”
There are many ways for the public to enjoy these beautiful streams, rivers and bayous. LDWF encourages everyone to visit them, paddle, fish, sightsee and bring along a camera to capture the natural beauty. By doing so, you can develop a genuine appreciation for their integral roles in the way and quality of life in Louisiana.
LDWF wants the public to take part in the celebration as well. Use the #MyScenicRiver hashtag whenever posting to social media any photos, video or other media while out and about in the Scenic River System. The public is also encouraged to submit photos taken on any of the designated Louisiana Scenic Rivers into the 50th anniversary photography contest. Entries can be submitted until Aug. 1.
To learn more about Scenic Rivers, go to www.wlf.la.gov/page/scenic-rivers.
For more information about the 50th anniversary event, go to www.wlf.la.gov/news/ldwf-to-celebrate-50-years-of-louisiana-natural-and-scenic-rivers-system-in-2020.
For information about the Scenic River Photo Contest, go to www.wlf.la.gov/page/myscenicriver.
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